Melan grew up in Nassau to Haitian parents of modest means. A self-professed book lover, she enjoyed studying, exploring nature and was more into Gardener’s Digest than Vogue magazine. That all changed when an introduction to a pageant scout suddenly propelled her into the glittering world of high-end fashion.
“I love the creativity, it’s the perfect counter-balance to my day job.”
“I was just living my life, studying at the College of the Bahamas, working at CIBC FirstCaribbean International Bank as a bank teller to help pay the bills which ultimately led to deciding to study for my CFA. I thought it would be easier (and cheaper!) than an MBA but in reality, it eats up your life!” Studying 3-4 hours every evening and most weekends, it took her longer than she expected to complete.
During her first year at college, an acquaintance asked her, ‘Have you ever thought of modelling? I could introduce you’. At 5’11 (180cm), Melan is slim and striking, and the question was a pretty regular occurrence. Not one to turn down meeting new people of different cultures, Melan agreed to meet the woman in-person. A director for beauty pageants in Haiti and The Bahamas, the woman was scouting for the next ‘Miss’. A couple of meetings later, Melan was crowned Miss Haiti and was thrown into a busy schedule of learning to catwalk, speak in public, and social etiquette.
A few months later, she boarded her first intercontinental flight to Manila to compete in the 2006 Miss Earth beauty pageant, alongside 80 other impeccably groomed young women. “I met girls from all over the world. We spent two weeks visiting schools, we planted many trees*, and waved in a lot of parades.” All while being assessed on her composure, behaviour and, of course, her answers during the intimidating Judges’ Panel interview where contestants are interrogated on anything from the geopolitics of their country to current affairs.
“I went for the experience and despite not getting the title, I made friends I still hold dear today. And I discovered my passion for modelling.” Upon her return home, Melan was promptly signed by local modelling agency with international ties and was soon in high demand for castings, photoshoots, and fashion shows across the Caribbean at first and then further afield to Miami and New York. “The thing with modelling is you need to be available. They can send you anywhere at a moment’s notice. I was still studying and working at the bank, and while I had to say no occasionally, I made it work somehow.”
“I had a very traditional upbringing. Some things took some getting used to. Backstage at a runway for example, everyone getting dressed and undressed, one person doing your make up while the other is fixing your hair and a third is pinning a dress to your body. Some clothes I just wasn’t comfortable wearing so I learned to speak up.”
Knowing the unwritten rule that a model’s working life is generally over at age 25, Melan chose to continue for as long as she could without moving away from her family, while she completed her studies and her CFA. She began her banking career as a fund administrator before moving into wealth management. She was hired by Julius Baer in 2018 to assist a relationship manager and joined Pictet as a fully-fledged Private Banker in December 2021. She is - defying all convention - still modelling, 15 years after she first began.
“I love the creativity, it’s the perfect counter-balance to my day job.” Her continued success leads parents or aspiring models to frequently ask her for advice. “I mentor them for a while, even a client’s son once! It’s really about confidence-building and self-acceptance. I tell them ‘you’re beautiful and unique in your own way, you won’t always be what they’re looking for and that’s a good thing’.” Melan’s view is reinforced by a shift in the fashion industry, which is moving towards a less idealised and more authentic image of what beauty can be. The winner of the 2019 Miss Universe, Zozibini Tunzi has very low cut hair for example. There is talk of a union for the modelling and pageantry industry to regulate working conditions. “It’s about time and it’s encouraging to see the industry shifting in a more ethical and respectful direction.”
“I love being creative with what I wear and, working in banking, I sometimes wonder whether I should tone it down but then I think ‘no’. Maybe I have to work a little harder to be taken seriously. I know I’m not going to be for everyone, but the only person I have to be there for is me. You never know who’s watching. A little girl or boy could see me and ask themselves “if she’s toning it down, do I have to tone it down?” No, I want them to see me and feel represented. To show them they can’t dim the lights on who they are, that they have to shine, no matter what. How else is the world going to change if we’re all the same?”
When Melan is not modelling or mentoring aspiring models, she volunteers as Secretary for the CFA Society The Bahamas and is a Private Banker for the Caribbean market for Pictet Wealth Management in Nassau, The Bahamas.
*The Miss Earth beauty pageant is different in its efforts to raise awareness on conservation and nature protection aspects.